The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
And while we've certainly had our share of dysfunctional family dramas another London production gained traction thanks to having ticket selling American actress Stockard Channing to play the leading role. (review). And it's that rather too neat and talky merger of political and family drama that's now in its New York premiere at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels venue.
Stockard Channing, who does imperious women with a streak of vulnerability extremely well, again plays the feisty Kristin Miller who during the late '60s left the United States and her marriage for Great Britain. There she became a renowned art historian and left wing political activist.
Channing's cast mates at the Laura Pels are new. There's also an American director, Daniel Aukin, on board to make sure that the birthday party to which she welcomes her grown up sons and their girlfriends unpacks not just their gifts, but all the messy feelings that are the hallmarks of this sort of family get-together from hell.
It seems that though Kristin has maintained a part-time relationship with her sons they've never quite gotten over feeling abandoned when she divorced their father and ceded custody to him in order to pursue her career and actively support radical human rights causes. Her failure to so much as mention them in her most recent book, even though it's billed as a memoir, has reignited the emotional fallout of their perception of Kristin's failure as a mother.
Of course, the acerbic Kristin is not shy about giving voice to her disappointment about their life styles which are not in sync with her own liberal views. Older son Peter (Hugh Dancy) is a banker a career that which she sees as putting him "with the takers and not the givers." Younger son Simon (also played by Dancy, at the top of the second act), is more creatively inclined than his brother; but unlike his accomplished mother he's too mentally frail to finish the novel he's been working on for seven years. The memoir's omission of her sons has shaken him up even more than Peter.
The brothers' significant others — Peter's American and Evangelical Christian fianceé Trudi (Talene Monahon), and Simon's glamorous live-in girl friend Claire (Megalyn Echikunwoke) whose role in a soap opera-ish TV serial keeps her in extravagantly expensive clothes— further expand the potential for clashing belief systems to darken the celebratory spirit with long monologues and less than welcoming interchanges. Even the birthday gifts and inoperative oven are little time bombs which Kristin's gay friend and neighbor Hugh (John Tillinger) tries to keep from exploding.
Dane Laffrey has designed an aptly book filled but not especially warm and cozy all purpose room in which this familiarly structured scenario unfolds over the course of early and late evening and the morning after. The costumes by Anita Yavich are equally on the mark, as are the other design elements.
The bound to erupt tensions begin with the arrival of Peter and Trudi. Their birthday gift of a large African mask isn't received quite as Trudi had hoped. Instead of delight it prompts some uneasy interchanges like the one with Peter quoted at the top of this review.
To send the party deeper into hellish territory, Simon's girlfriend Claire arrives alone because his mental problems have reached a serious breakdown stage. Actually, the scene at the beginning of the second act when Simon does arrive is a highlight of the play and our chance to see Channing make us see the more emotional, caring Kristin.
Though Channing unquestionably has the hostess with the mostest star power, the actors playing the five other party guests do excellent work. Hugh Dancy transitions convincingly from the rather colorless banker struggling with his love-hate feelings towards his mum — to the incredibly sad Simon airing of a horrific long ago trauma when his mother failed to show up as scheduled to meet him at a train station. Bathed in darkness by lighting designer Bradley King, that scene reminded me of another impressive Dancy performance in the even more darkly lit war drama, Journey's End.
Talene Monahon, who last year contributed to the hilarity of The Government Inspector is ver effective as the awkward American, intimidated by her formidable future mother-in-law who's nevertheless secure about her Christianity. Her overly flattering and often comic comments and questions serve as an open sesame for Kristin's obviously disdainful and speech-length responses.
John Tillinger's Hugh saves the guests from going hungry because of the non-working oven by ordering fish and chips.
By the time this party's over, it's clear that whatever era you live in, the perfect path for a satisfying life without regrets or apologies will be ever evasive. So, what else is new?
As I left, I couldn't help wishing, we'd been offered a new Alexi Kaye Campbell play instead of a revival. Hopefully, he's at work on one.
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Apologia by Alexi Kaye Campbell
Directed by Daniel Aukin
Cast: Stockard Channing as Kristin, Hugh Dancy as Peter and Simon,Megalyn Echikunwoke as Claire, Talene Monahon as Trudi, John Tillinger as Hugh.
Scenic Design: Dane Laffrey
Costume Design; Anita Yavich
Lighting Design: Bradley King
Original compositions & sound Design; Ryan Rumery
Dialect Coach: Ben Furey
Hair and wig design: Tom Watson Stage Manager: Bess Marie Glorioso
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including 1 intermission
Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre 111 West 46th Street
From 9/27/18; opening 10/16/18; closing 12/16/18
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 10/11/18 press preview
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